I’ve been trying to convince people of several things for years now—like how they really need to make an all-red bag over there at the Skittles factory (because life’s too short to waste our precious Mondays sifting through the yellow ones). I’ve been on a soapbox about other meaningful matters, too, including but not limited to ideas like:
The Grim Reaper is the Frenemy Worth Making. Knowing he’s around the corner helps us live with more oomph. We take our lives for granted until we deliberately remember it’s a matter of time until he summons us with his bony finger.
Routines = Reaper Bait. Following the same habits and routines over and over makes us a little bit and then a lot a bit dead inside. The Reaper sniffs this out like chum in the water.
Novelty is the Antidote to Robot-itis. We must throw a wrench into our well-oiled robotic routines. This wrench is known as novelty and its other helpful friends in the toolbox include variety, interest, curiosity, and spontaneity (yes! All part of a psychologically rich life.).
Spontaneity: Spurned or Savored
Any of these thoughts sound familiar?
“Following spur-of-the-moment whims isn’t what a Responsible Adult does.”
“If I go with my gut in the moment, I’ll look impulsive.”
“I love schedules and plans. Spontaneity doesn’t jive with my desire to keep things in control.”
“Isn’t spontaneity all about recklessness? I’m trying to stay out of prison.”
Of course you can make irresponsible, impulsive, reckless decisions—and then hope to get out on bail—but I’m not talking about spontaneously combusting your life (or anyone else’s).
Let’s consider the kind of spontaneity that’s characterized by vitality and energy.
Responding to a desire in the moment can be invigorating, especially if we’re people who usually like to color inside the lines. Acting on a bit of “responsible impulse” can add a bit of zip, zing, and zest to your otherwise stick-to-the plan life. In my research and experience of working with busy adults, WE ARE ON THE HUNT FOR ZIP, ZING, AND ZEST. We’re just afraid to do whimsical things to get those feelings into our lives.
How about changing your ho-hum dinner plans at the last minute to order something fun for delivery?
How about deciding on a Saturday morning to go for nice, long hike—punting the laundry-grocery-shopping routine until Sunday?
How about pulling off the highway because you saw sign that said, “All You Can Eat Chimichanga Buffet” and you just had to check it out?
How about calling up a neighbor for an impromptu beverage THAT EVENING—without the fanfare of getting anything fancy ready?
How about volunteering to present at the next client meeting, because although it scares you, deep down it’s a challenge you want to face?
How about going with your gut about how to spend your next day off—not over-planning it, but having a few options at the ready and picking the best option in the moment?
How about extending your vacation by an extra day, while you are (*gasp!*) STILL ON vacation—because you absolutely must visit the Voodoo Museum before you leave New Orleans?
Researchers talk about the value of spontaneity and living in the here and now. “Spontaneity, healthy impulsivity, direct doing without overthinking, ability to go with the flow of the moment, ability to live in the moment and disengage from ongoing concerns and context, ability to break away to come back with a fresh perspective”—these are all associated with increased subjective life satisfaction. How do you feel about going with the flow of the moment? Do you also like the phrase “healthy impulsivity”?
If Being in Control is your love language (hear, hear!), I admit that spicing things up with a dash of spontaneity isn’t going to top your to-do list. If you are looking to expand your experience of being alive, though, jostling with your best-laid plans might be exactly what you need to experience vibrancy in life. It doesn’t require wild plan-abandonment—like getting to the airport and changing your trip from Brazil to Finland on a whim (at least pick a place that’s compatible with what you packed, if you’re going to super-size spontaneity). Subtle spontaneity might be more your speed, with mild-to-moderate sized adjustments to your plans. You might pick your kid up from school and go for an unexpected ice cream cone . . . that’s do-able, right?
Are you willing to execute Operation: Last Minute Plan Switcheroo in service of spicing things up and feeling more sprightliness (our new favorite word) in life? Are you willing to tune into what might be fun/ enriching/ memorable in the moment even if it’s not part of the itinerary? Are you willing to exit the highway? Are you willing to ski off-piste? Are you open to taking the road less traveled when your route is firmly set and optimized? As we all know, that woman who lives in your map app is ready and able to “reroute” you to your Aunt Ginny’s after you take that spontaneous waterfall detour.
Getting a wee bit spontaneous doesn’t have to be as distasteful as yellow Skittles. It can lead to a life that feels vibrant and tingly with feelings of aliveness. Guys: our Mondays are ticking. Cheers to a healthy dose of healthy impulsivity.